A young lady expressing joy Photo courtesy of HealthlineOpens in new window

Joy is one of the variety of positive emotions or affective states that also include happiness, contentment, pleasure, excitement, satisfaction, gladness, ecstasy, and others. According to Bagozzi (1999), the English language has about 40 words that describe states that are variants of happinessOpens in new window.

The word joy is sometimes used generally to describe a pleasant emotional or affective state.

Psychologists, however, have attempted to distinguish the variety of positive states in an effort to provide clear descriptions of each individual state. The states can be categorized as other-directed (interpersonal) or self-directed (intrapersonal; DeRivera & Grinks, 1986).

LoveOpens in new window is an example of an other-directd state, whereas most of the positive emotionOpens in new window terms, including joy, refer to self-directed states.

Emotions and affective states may also be distinguished by degree of arousal (e.g., Russell, 1980). Some positive states involve high arousal, such as ecstasyOpens in new window, and others involve low arousal, such as tranguility or contentment. Joy falls in between these extremes, with moderate arousal.

Another way to understand affective experience is a reaction to an immediate event or whether it describes an individual’s typical or customary way of feeling (the latter may indicate a personality trait). Applying this distinction, joy is usually used to mean a positive emotional experience that occurs as a reaction to a particular event, whereas according to some emotion researchers (e.g., Kalat & Shiota, 2007), the term happinessOpens in new window is more appropriate for an affective state that one has more consistently; thus some people can be said to have happy personalities.

Schumm (1999) distinguishes between four positive emotional states:

  1. pleasure,
  2. satisfaction,
  3. happiness, and
  4. joy.

The main difference between the four states has to do with what causes the state.

  • Pleasure is usually associated with the occurrence of something tangible such as eating good food, using a drug, or finding a $100 bill on the street. The cause of pleasure is not necessarily related to anything that the individual experiencing the pleasure has achieved or earned (although it can be). The feeling of pleasure is short-lived; it tends to go away soon after the event that caused it.
  • Satisfaction is more complex than pleasure because it involves thinking. Someone experiences satisfaction when he achieves what he has set out to achiveve or what he feels he deserves. For instance, a person may feel satisfaction when he has won an award that he thought he deserved for the poem that he wrote.

    Since satisfaction involves thinking (cognition), it may be either fairly easy or fairly difficult for a particular individual to experience it; some people may hold very high standards for feeling satisfaction, for instance, by requiring high absolute performance or requiring oneself to continually achieve more and more over time or requiring oneself to be better than all competitors.
  • Happiness is less cognitive and more emotional than satisfaction; Shumm (1999) and others have described happiness as the emotional aspect of a general sense of well-being, whereas satisfactionOpens in new window is the cognitive aspect. Additionally, happinessOpens in new window is often described as being largely derived from the quality of one’s interpersonal relationships with friends and family.
  • Joy is usually associated with transcendent experiences. Most often, these experiences are religious or spiritual or the result of involvement in meaningful work.

Csikszentmihalyi (1997) has described the feeling of “flow,” intense concentration and full involvement, that occurs when an individual is engaged in much-loved work and is making nearly full use of his capabilities. A significant component of flow is joy.

See also:
  1. Bagozzi, R.P. (1999). Happiness. In D. Levinson, J.J. Ponzetti, & P.F. Jorgensen (Eds.), Encyclopedia of human emotions (2nd ed. pp. 317 – 324). New York: Macmillan Reference USA.
  2. Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow: The psychology of engagement with everyday life. New York: Basic Books.
  3. de Rivera, J., & Grinkis, C. (1986). Emotions as social relationships. Motivation and Emotion, 10, 351 – 369.
  4. Kalat, J.W., & Shiota, M.N. (2007). Emotion. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.
  5. Russell, J.A. (1980). A circumplex model of affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 1161 – 1178.
  6. Schumm, W.R. (1999). Satisfaction. In D. Levinson, J.J. Ponzetti, & P.F. Jorgensen (Eds.), Encyclopedia of human emotions (2nd ed., pp. 583 – 590). New York: Macmillan Reference USA.